The Grey

The same poetic form recurs, but the story inside varies across its domain. The lovers are parted or in desperate straits, then comes a sudden realization just when all appears lost that seemingly permits a view from the other side of the trauma and pain. Having fainted (among other altered states) many times, I have learned to focus on remaining an aware observer throughout, and have witnessed the shift into different aspects of consciousness quite plainly. As with those who have had near-death experiences–NDEs–one gains a totally different perspective on what’s been happening. It’s always peaceful there. And no one need be alone.

Then again, it’s not our lot to go to the bright world now and stay there; we pursue our work in the grey in-between.

The following piece is recent, and one I am fond of:

26 November 2020


The Grey Side

The side of your face, with your head on the pillow, its lace edge caressing your cheekbones and chin–

so leads me away to a shimmering break in the inclement weather where journeys begin

the hard work of a terrible cause being challenged again and again, till the weary tears fall

and it all goes to pieces because when you sigh the soft light in your eyes sends a gleam to the wall

where old warrior-shadows once passed–their own faces as grey as their dense grizzled many years’ beards.

Each of them plodding along, seeing nothing but hoping to end with the cloud-midnight wyrds

who first whispered them wakeful and ordered them, march on the land like the times when you rowed for the shore

but were never to find either reason or plunder; it’s time now you learned what your journey was for.

Hoping forlornly–but counting on nothing–they sense a vague change in the air. The wind shifts.

Out of a low heavy sky, an idea appears like a lantern a lonely hand lifts,

and its beam penetrates the dim corners in each sorry warrior’s mind–if there’s aught that remains.

Well after midnight she’s bound to go riding and witnesses then will make lyrical gains

in the knowledge of lost incantations and how to create them anew from the most ancient source.

Hard as their lives must have been, they are harder by far for the distance they’ve plodded off course,

If they hie them around, there’s no past no go back to; and if they march forward–the cliffs are close by.

And then like a flash from a mirror, the same gleam of light from your eyes came as Hush, this is why:

In each leather garment there’s one secret pocket, so secret you had to forget it yourself

lest it be wrested from you–the likeness so precious, it stayed in a box on a high mantel shelf

till the orders came through and you could not abandon it, knowing its fate was precarious there.

So every one of you, all this long column of restless ghost-walkers, kept one lock of hair,

and a profile of her whom the rest of the hair was attached to last time she was present and real.

Now you’re so lost in your own lonely story, you haven’t the heart for the hard way to feel

how much need lives within you like–ghosts in a circuit completing itself but then starting again.

Don’t ever picture the side of her face where your fingers once traced a strange map sudden rain

dissolved into vivid, unreadable marks; she might turn away if your touch is too rough.

What will you do if you’ve found her the same way a very wyrd woman’s just spoken, Enough

cicumambulance, circumlocution, and circum-un-straight-line manoevers, poor warrior soul.

All the hard marching that’s cost one more lifetime, and still you’re caught fast where you’re outstanding goal

is one hand waving back across nearly no distance. She’s always been faithful; she’ll shelter your ghost.

Each time you set out to follow wrong orders has cost you, but midnight, she’ll raise you a toast

with a cup overbrimming with cider pressed here, the glad land you’ve arrived in at last. Why the face

she turned shyly away, the first time you approached? The grey side of your own was like alien lace.


About J

formal verse poetry and commentary at
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